Congratulations to Tom Thornton for the publication of his article “Compliance and Obedience in an Alabama prison faith dorm” in the March 2023 issue of the prestigious Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Here’s the abstract:
This article considers how the Christian obedience of male prisoners inside the ‘faith dorm’ of a maximum-security prison in the US state of Alabama overlaps with penal compliance. I argue that prisoners’ devotion to faith-dorm strictures is not straightforward rule-following but forges social and Christly intimacy. Faith-dorm obedience foregrounds the theological, and it reveals non-church institutional domains as theologically dynamic and capable of spiritually infused material work. To explore this, I describe how spiritual governance became a technique of Alabama’s prison population management. Then I show how the resulting compliance is transfigured into critical notions of obedience that elicit practices of care and mutual support among prisoners through theological imaginaries of grace and Jesus’ crucifixion. Ultimately, I advance prisoners’ obedience as ‘dark wisdom’, which draws on the paradox of a crucified messiah to derive justice and intimacy from the prison’s coerced living conditions.